Published: Oct. 5, 2022 By

From increasing droughts and wildfires to polluted air and deforestation, natural disasters have an enormous impact on humans, including Indigenous ways of life. 

Inspired by a recent story collection in the Coloradan, “Justice for Earth, Justice for Humans,” CU faculty shared insights and research at the recent related event, Coloradan Conversations: Climate Change and Its Impact on Human Rights. Watch three short videos of their presentations or the entire event.

Here are three key takeaways from the event:

Populations most negatively affected by climate change often contribute the least to the problem.

“We know that those who are worst affected by climate change and have the fewest economic resources to adapt to its harmful effects are also the ones who have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions, and so climate change is exacerbating underlying inequalities,” said speaker and geography Professor Emily Yeh.

Yeh focused on how climate change impacts Tibetan pastoralists and the ways “adaptation” can become another form of dispossession and further marginalization. 

“Justice means that those who are most responsible for climate change should bear not only the majority of the cost of mitigation but also of adaptation not just for ourselves but also for people who are most affected. This is very much not happening on a global scale, national scale or regionally.”

Yeh said just solutions to climate change must address not just its symptoms, but the “interconnected social and political processes that led to the crisis in the first place.”

Technology is not the only way to address climate change. We must consider Indigenous knowledge.

“Climate solutions are often framed in ways that do not account for the harm that colonial and industrial practices have caused Indigenous communities and the land,” said speaker and Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies Clint Carroll, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a fellow at CU Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies

Carroll focused on Indigenous knowledge systems and their ethical frameworks of relationality that offer the world new approaches for addressing the climate crisis and underscoring the rights of the Earth and all life. 

“This is where Western technology and political institutions fall short in their hubris and failure to acknowledge the true roots of our current crisis, which lies in the breach of our relationships with the Earth and all life. And this is what Indigenous peoples have been saying for decades.”

Yes, plastic is a big part of the picture. And this waste affects everyone.

“Plastic production keeps multiplying at an astonishing pace. If we don't change course, the World Economic Forum projects more than tripling amounts by 2050 resulting in a one-to-one ratio of plastics to fish in the ocean by weight,” said speaker Phaedra Pezzullo, associate professor in the Department of Communication in the College of Media, Communication and Information and an associate faculty of environmental studies.

Pezzullo discussed how plastic became the fossil fuel industry’s Plan B and why, if you care about human rights and climate change, you should be paying attention to local, state and international plastics regulations. 

“Plastics are toxic to public health and the broader ecosystem,” she said. “Our lives have become intimately entangled with microplastics.”

Pezzullo, founding co-director of the Center for Creative Climate Communication and Behavior Change and the Just Transition Collaborative, added that plastics are contributing to the unfolding climate emergency, and that everyone must do their part to address the issue.

“Transforming our throwaway culture’s attitude about plastics will not happen overnight with laws, of course. We need to reimagine our relationship with plastics to consider what we can’t currently live without, like IV tubes, and what we can avoid, like single use plastic bags.”

In the end, she said, the challenges of climate change and human rights are not something we should wait for someone else to solve. 

“We all have a responsibility to care.” 

As a global leader in climate, environmental and energy research, the University of Colorado Boulder is partnering with United Nations Human Rights to co-host the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit in fall 2022. 

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